During the Six Day War of June 1967, Israeli forces took the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank (often referred to as Judea and Samaria) and the Golan Heights. Although these "territories", with the exception of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, were never incorporated into the State of Israel, the question of their future has been a central topic in Israeli politics and is at present perhaps the most important issue dividing the major political parties. Israeli policy regarding the territories has been influenced by diplomatic, security, economic, religious and moral considerations, interpreted and prioritized differently by different political leaders and parties. Many observers see the issue of the territories as the key to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the current Peace Process indeed focuses on the transfer of power over increasing areas of the territories to a Palestinian Administration. It is therefore important to note at the outset that the Israeli occupation of the territories was a result, and not the cause, of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Before 1967, the territories were administered by Syria, Egypt and Jordan. The Golan Heights were an internationally recognized part of Syria even before the latter's independence after the Second World War. The Sinai came under British-Egyptian rule back in 1906. As described in the previous class, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank/Judea-Samaria were part of the territory defined by the United Nations in 1947 as a Palestinian Arab State.
After the Arab defeat in 1948, Egypt put the Gaza Strip under a military government, and Trans-Jordan in 1950 annexed the area it held west of the Jordan River, which became known as the West Bank. This annexation was recognized neither in the Arab world nor in the international community. Trans-Jordan then changed its name to Jordan. The city of Jerusalem which was to have been internationalized according to the United Nations plan, was divided between Israel and Jordan along the cease-fire lines. This situation continued essentially unchanged until June 1967.
While a detailed analysis of the developments leading up to the Six Day War lies beyond the scope of this class, several key facts should be noted. The concentration of Arab forces near Israeli borders, the Egyptian expulsion of the United Nations peace-keeping troops from Gaza and the Sinai, the closure of the Straits of Tiran (blockading the Israeli port of Eilat) and the formation of a military pact by the surrounding Arab states, prompted Israel in May 1967 to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. When this was not forthcoming, the Israeli government debated whether to take pre-emptive military action, or to wait for the first blow of an Arab attack which would exact a greater price in Israeli lives.
The government decided on the former option.
After a surprise air attack on June 5 which destroyed the Arab air forces, Israel took its main objective: the Sinai and the Egyptian positions which commanded the Straits of Tiran. Jordan was notified that if it abstained from fighting, Israel would refrain from any further action against it. When Jordan entered the war, Israeli forces responded and took the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the ensuing battles. During the last two days of the war, the Israeli army conquered the Golan Heights, from which the Syrians had sniped and shelled Israeli settlements below. By the end of the fighting on June 10, Israel was in possession of the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. These areas were given various designations, most of which reveal a political view: the liberated territories, the administered territories, the occupied territories or the conquered territories. The areas which had been ruled by Jordan were either referred to as "Judea and Samaria" in order to emphasize the historical Jewish link with the region, or continued to be known as the "West Bank", suggesting a connection with Jordan or a semi-independent status.
Israeli policy after the war distinguished between the Sinai and the Golan Heights which had been recognized possessions of Egypt and Syria respectively, and other areas in which there was no recognized ruler and which were strategically and ideologically important to Israel. On June 27, East Jerusalem, expanded to include Rachel's Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem and the Kalandia airport close to Ramallah, was formally incorporated into the West Jerusalem municipality. Israeli law and administration were extended to these areas. In August, the Israeli national unity government (which at the time included former opposition leader Menahem Begin) made Egypt an offer to withdraw from the Sinai in return for a solution to the problems of the Straits of Tiran, free navigation in the Suez Canal, the demilitarization of the Sinai and a peace agreement. A similar proposal regarding the Golan was made to Syria in exchange for demilitarization of the Golan, guarantees of water supply from sources of the Jordan River to Israel, and peace.
No specific offers were made regarding the West Bank/Judea-Samaria or the Gaza Strip, but Israeli leaders did state publicly that new frontiers would be the product of direct negotiations with the Arab countries concerned.
The Arab response was formulated at the Arab League summit held in Khartoum, Sudan on September 1, 1967: "...the Arab Heads of State agreed on unifying their efforts in joint political and diplomatic action at the international level to ensure the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied Arab territory. This is within the framework of the basic Arab commitment, which entails no recognition of Israel, no conciliation or negotiation with her, and the upholding of the rights of the Palestinian people to their land."
On November 22, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 242 as a compromise between American-backed Israeli demands for mutual recognition and direct negotiations leading to border agreements, and the Soviet-Arab insistence on unconditional Israeli withdrawal as a precondition for any negotiations. The resolution called for "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and "acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries". A Special Representative was to proceed to the Middle East "to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement". The Arab refusal to negotiate with Israel directly, and Israel's unwillingness to give up its major bargaining card before coming to peace agreements with the Arabs, led to an impasse, and to continued Israeli control of the territories.
ISRAELI POLICY: 1967-1977:
There were different and even conflicting views within the government on the issue of the territories.
There were those such as the Finance Minister, Pinhas Sapir, or the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, who argued that incorporation of the territories would lead to economic dependence on cheap Arab labor or isolate Israel diplomatically. Members of some of the more hawkish parties, accompanied by certain voices within the Labor party, emphasized the historical and strategic significance of the territories. For the first time in 19 years, Israel's economic and demographic center would be out of the range of Arab artillery. Any attempt at invasion or air attack could be stopped before damage was caused to Israeli cities. Control of the Golan Heights released the Israeli settlements below from the constant Syrian shelling and sniping.
Probably the most influential member of cabinet was the Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, who emphasized three points:
- maintenance of security within the territories through the creation of a military government and a network of army bases;
- normalization of Arab life by allowing Arab residents to maintain their Jordanian, Egyptian or Syrian citizenship and through the inauguration of an "open bridges" policy that would allow visitors and goods to cross the border between Israel and Jordan;
- the right of Jews to settle in the territories, which necessitated Israeli investment in infrastructure and encouragement of business and industry in the territories.
A plan was drawn up along these lines by Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon. In the West Bank/Judea-Samaria, a belt of Israeli settlements was to be established along the mostly uninhabited Jordan Valley in order to prevent any attempt at invasion from the East. A corridor at Jericho would allow movement between Jordan and the West Bank/Judea-Samaria. Jewish settlements in the Etzion Bloc, conquered by Arabs during the 1948 war, would be re-established. Due to its strategic importance, the Golan was to be settled and kept for the most part under Israeli control. A few military outposts would be established in the Gaza Strip.
While most of the Sinai was ultimately to be returned to Egypt, the Rafiah Salient which later included the town of Yamit and several moshavim, was to remain in Israeli hands. Israel would interfere as little as possible in the lives of the Arab population which was to be permitted to govern itself in some form. Although the proposal was never officially adopted, it did serve as a basic plan for settlement in the territories.
Israel established a military government to administer the territories. The legal system which had been in effect was maintained, although additional ordinances were adopted by the military government, especially in the interest of maintaining security. At the head of the administration stood the Defense Minister, who delegated authority to a Coordinator of Activities in the Territories and to regional Military Governors. The Military Government took on all of the normal functions of state government: health, finances, education, infrastructure, religious affairs,communications, utilities, etc.
Already in 1967, the Greater Land of Israel movement was formed with the goal of incorporating all of the territories into the State of Israel. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (in which Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in an effort to regain the Sinai and Golan respectively) and the blow to the Israeli government as a result of the intelligence and operational failures that surfaced in the following months, a new movement emerged. The movement was called Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful, a segment of the National Religious Party.
As opposed to Allon's proposal which envisioned Jewish settlement in areas of low Arab concentration, Gush Emunim focused on the centers of Arab settlement territories as part of the unfolding messianic process. In the mid-1970s, members of the Block initiated settlement attempts near the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus. These actions brought the group into confrontation with the Labor government (which relied on the NRP), but on several occasions the government backed down and allowed the establishment of "temporary" settlements which soon evolved into permanent sites. During this time, direct negotiations were underway between Israel and Egypt over the separation of forces and the return of part of the Sinai to Egypt.
ISRAELI POLICY: 1977-1981:
Likud, which came to power in 1977, had advocated the incorporation of the territories into the State of Israel for reasons of security and ideology. The territories provided an important buffer between Israel and its Arab neighbors as well as a significant obstacle to a potential Arab invasion. Their return to Arab hands would once again threaten Israeli security. Moreover, Judea and Samaria were in the heart of the historic Land of Israel.
After the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations of the mid-1970s under the Labor Government and the unprecedented visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977, relations between the two countries began to thaw. At the Camp David summit in 1978, Prime Minister Menahem Begin and President Sadat agreed that in exchange for the Sinai, including the Rafiah Salient, Egypt would agree to full normalization and diplomatic relations. In a second set of accords, the two countries agreed that the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank/Judea-Samaria would be given autonomy for a five-year period during which time the final status of the territories would be negotiated among representatives of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. These accords were embodied in the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty in 1979 and the withdrawal from Sinai was carried out in stages until 1982. Those in the Likud who strongly opposed the withdrawal broke off in 1979 to form the Tehiya (Renaissance) Party.
Likud policy regarding other territories was more in line with the party's traditional position.
On December 12, 1981, the Golan Heights Law extended Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to the Golan Heights, effectively annexing the territory to Israel. Outright annexation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank/Judea-Samaria was seen as inadvisable as it would likely alienate both Egypt and the United States. Instead, the Likud proposed autonomy for the inhabitants of these areas. According to the plan presented by Begin in Knesset on December 28, 1977, these Palestinians would have control of their own education, religious affairs, finances, transportation, construction, housing, energy, industry, trade and tourism, health, labor and welfare and refugee rehabilitation.
Their power, however, was to be over services and departments - not over territory. Sovereign rule would remain in the hands of Israel, which was to control security, public order and foreign affairs. Local residents could decide to keep their foreign citizenship or they could opt to become Israeli citizens. Israelis would be free to settle in the territories and Arabs from the territories who chose to become Israelis would be free to settle in Israel.
As it can be assumed that few Arabs in the territories would elect to become Israeli citizens, the Begin proposal was essentially a way to hold on to the territories while withholding political rights from the Arab residents. The Likud version of autonomy was essentially different than the Egyptian, American or even Labor Party understanding of autonomy. Sadat envisaged a transitional stage of self-rule leading to a final stage of Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian independence. While America frowned at the idea of Palestinian state, it did see autonomy as leading to some form of self-rule independent of sraeli control. Labor suggested that this self-government be formed as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian entity. The autonomy defined in the Camp David Accords of 1978 was very open: the residents of the territories were to elect a self-governing authority that was to get autonomy after a five-year period. However, the negotiations among the various parties never really got off the ground: Jordan didn't join, the Palestine Liberation Organization opposed the idea of autonomy, Israel dragged its feet, Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, and the Israeli war in Lebanon from 1982 to 1985 focused attention and diplomatic effort elsewhere.